South Korean documentary film “Us, Day by Day” looks into the past and present of five proud and strong women who have all led each own interesting life as feminists. As it is limited by its rather short running time (75 minutes), I wish it delved more into their lives and personalities, but the documentary still works as an earnest presentation of the history of the Korean Women’s Movement, and it is certainly something you should check out especially if you are interested in its relevant gender issues.
At first, director Kangyu Ga-ram reminisces about her old college time in the 1990s, when many youthful progressive activists in South Korean colleges found themselves rather aimless after the democratization of their country was finally attained in the late 1980s. Although she only came to realize later that a traditional music circle which she joined during her first college year was actually a political activist group, Kangyu did not mind at all while enjoying many outdoor activities along with her circle members, and that is evident from a series of old photographs of her and her circles members.
However, Kangyu’s good time in this circle did not last long because she was sexually molested by some supposedly respectable political activist. Quite shocked and devastated, she tried to seek any advice or help from others around her, but nobody could help her, and that eventually led to her leaving that circle with lots of pain and disillusionment.
Fortunately, Kangyu subsequently came across the rising feminist movements in her college, and she slowly got recovered from her trauma as learning more about feminism and gender inequality. In addition, she came to befriend several different female students from whom she came to learn one valuable thing after another, and that is the main reason why she becomes interested in observing how five certain college friends of hers have been doing during recent years.
Presented via their respective nicknames instead of their real names, her five different friends turn out to be still living through feminism. For example, “Kira” has run a small veterinary hospital in a small city not so far from my hometown Jeonju, and we see how she has had a fairly good life on the whole with her best female friend and several pets of theirs. Although she chose to pursue her current career due to feeling emotional exhaustion from handling many cases of sexual harassment, she still does not forget what she learned during that old college time, and, as observing her small local political activity, we come to admire her more.
The movie subsequently shifts its focus to “Jatury”, who has been married to a guy who was initially her best male friend. Besides running not only a small inn but also an organic vegetable delivery service along with her caring husband who seems to respect her sincerely as his equal life partner, she has also invested a considerable amount of her time to local political activities, and we see her several activities in the local women’s association. When a certain prominent politician is accused of sexual harassment and then put on a trial for that, she and her colleagues are certainly vocal about this big scandal, and they willingly do demonstrations on streets, though not many people pay attention to them.
Like her friends, Jatury still remembers well how active she and many other female college students were during the 1990s. Empowered by their feminist belief and knowledge, they were bold and forthright especially in case of exposing a very rude public ‘ritual’ of male students from a certain prestigious college in Seoul, and their efforts eventually stopped this virulent tradition of toxic masculinity once for all.
In case of “Aura”, she has steadily worked on supporting women’s rights and welfare since that time, and we observe how passionately she devotes herself to a cooperative association to provide a number of different kinds of help and service to many women out there. Not so surprisingly, she often comes across obstacles, but she is not deterred by them at all as putting more efforts on her passion project, and you can sense her indomitable energy as she enthusiastically talks in front of the camera.
The aforementioned sexual harassment scandal appears again when the movie approaches to “Omae”, who certainly knows a lot about sexual harassment as the head of a consultation office for sexual violence. Like Jaturi, she is quite outspoken as expressing her opinion and belief in public, and she and her colleagues are certainly excited when the justice they have demanded is finally served to that deplorable politician.
As the final figure in the documentary, “Flowing” also impresses us as much as others. Although she recently has to put aside her independent musician career due to a financial reason, she still cares a lot about feminism nonetheless, and we see her working at a local youth center where she can enlighten those young kids more on gender issue and sensitivity. Around the end of the documentary, we hear a piece of work composed by her for the documentary, and we come to reflect more on her and other women in the documentary as the first bar of her work is played on the soundtrack.
On the whole, “Us, Day by Day” is rather plain on the surface, but its sincerity and passion are clearly felt from its engaging human subjects, and you will surely be enlightened a bit on the Korean Women’s Movement. Many of us have been more aware of women’s movement thanks to the recent #MeToo era, but there were already many efforts and struggles before that, and the documentary certainly did a fine job of illuminating some of those admirable South Korean feminists who do deserve more credit and acknowledgement.